The following article was printed in Rapid City Journal 2.8.92. Supplementary notes have been assigned by me:
It's Super Bowl Sunday, and while any American with an once of testosterone is glued to the TV watching a band of whiteskins and blackskins calling themselves redskins chase buffalo, my friend and I, Rapid City on business, decide to visit Mount Rushmore.
Washington's noble Roman profile peeks first around the corner as we crawl up the winding highway, and I feel a twinge of patriotism as I view the one constant who watched in silent judgment as I struggled through my childhood lessons to be a good American. around another curve and he is joined by his wall buddy, "four score an seven years ago" Lincoln, (minus his tall hat), and the the pony-tailed penman who write us into liberty. The short guy, who always looked taller on his horse, with his funny aren't-they-going-to-fall-off-his-face glasses, joins the party.
We drive around the tiered parking lot and stop the car right in front. We march quickly down the flag-waving Avenue of states, past the concession stand (fudge made in the shadow of Mount Rushmore) and the gift shop featuring British porcelain, coming to a halt facing the Shrine of Democracy.
It's very big. and very white. "Why these four?" we wonder out loud, after the first awe wears off. Washington is obvious. Yeah, but I remember my first-grade grandson's horror when he learned that the father of our country owned slaves. And my surprise when I first read that Washington was called "Village Destroyer" by the Iroquois, for his scorched-earth policy of burning their villages, caches of food, even their fruit trees, during the Revolutionary War, in preparation for taking their land to pay the soldiers. The Iroquois women would cover their heads whenever the name "George Washington" was spoken.
Jefferson is the shoe-in, except that he also had slaves and may have used one of them sexually. Then there was his geographic confusion that the road to India lay to the west, through the Pacific ports, but benevolently he planned to turn the Indians living in the way into little laced and pony-tailed replicas of himself through education.
[Note supplied by JSD:George Washington to James Duane - September 7, 1783
My ideas ... therefore of the line of Conduct proper to be observed not only towards the Indians, but for the government of the Citizens of America, in their settlement of the Western Country (which is intimately connected therewith) are simply these [:]
That the Indians should be informed, that after a Contest of eight years for the Sovereignty of this Country G: Britain [sic] has ceded all the Lands of the United States within the limits described by the arte. [sic] of the Provisional Treaty.
That as they (the Indians) maugre [sic] all the advice and admonition which could be given them at the commencement; and during the prosecution of the War could not be restrained from acts of Hostility, but were determined to join their Arms to those of G Britain [sic] and to share their fortune; so, consequently, with a less generous People than Americans they would be made to share the same fate; and be compelled to retire along with them beyond the Lakes [Canada]. But as we prefer peace to a state of Warfare, as we consider them to be a deluded People; as we perswade [sic] ourselves that they are convinced, from experience, of their error in taking up the Hatchet against us, and that their true Interest and safety must now depend on our friendship. As the Country is large enough to contain us all; and as we are disposed to be kind to them and to partake of their Trade, we will from these considerations and from motives of Compn. [compassion?], draw a veil over what is past and establish a boundary line between them and us beyond which we will endeavor to restrain our People from Hunting or Settling, and within which they [Indians] shall not come, but for the purpose of Trading, Treating, or other business unexceptionable [sic] in it's nature.
In establishing this line, in the first instance, care should be taken neither to yield nor to grasp to grasp at too much. But to endeavor to impress the Indians with an idea of the generosity of our disposition to accommodate them, and with the necessity we are under, of providing for our Warriors, our Young People who are growing up, and strangers who are coming from other Countries to live among us, and if they should make a point of it, or appear dissatisfied at the line we may find it necessary to establish, compensation should be made them for their claims within it...
...the Settlemt. [sic] of the Western Country and making a Peace with the Indians are so analogous that there can be no definition of the one without involving considerations of the other. For I repeat it, again, and I am clear in my opinion, that policy and oeconomy [sic] point very strongly to the expediency of being upon good terms with the Indians, and the propriety of purchasing their Lands in preference to attempting to drive them by force of arms out of their Country; which as we have already experienced is like driving the Wild Beast of the Forest which will return as soon as the pursuit is at an end and fall perhaps on those that are left there; when the gradual extension of our Settlements will as certainly cause the Savage as the Wolf to retire; both being beasts of prey tho' they differ in shape. In a word there is nothing to be obtained by an Indian War but the Soil they live on and this can be had by purchase at less expense [sic], and without that bloodshed, and those distresses which helpless Women and Children are made partakers of in all kinds of disputes with them...
Teddy Roosevelt, of course, perfected that scheme of Manifest Destiny,
[Note supplied by JSD:In 1807 Jefferson so stated that " ...if ever we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe we will never lay it down til that tribe is exterminated, or driven beyond the Mississippi...in war they will kill some of us; But we will destroy all of them. "]
but Lincoln is the one good apple. Who can say anything wrong about him? Harriet Tubman, for one, the underground railroad conductor who brought more than 200 slaves to freedom. She refused to shake the hand of the "Pontius Pilate of the slaves" as abolitionists like Tubman called Lincoln. Although he was elected on an anti-slavery ticket, Lincoln initially turned his back on the slave, saying he was fighting the Civil War to preserve the Union. He rescinded the nation's first emancipation proclamation issued by Gen. Fremont in Missouri, and only issued his own when he was forced into by his own party. That same year Lincoln authorized the largest mass murder in this country, when 38 Santee Indians were hung in Mankato, Minn., for defending their land.
[Note supplied by JSD:Extermination and land appropriation " ...was as ultimately beneficial as it was imevitable. Such conquests are sure to come when a masterful people, still in it's raw barbarian prime, finds itself face to face with the weaker and wholly alien race which holds a coveted prize in it's feeble grasp "]
No woman ever put any of these men into office, we realize, because democracy in this country didn't apply to women, even white ones, until 1920. They represent the "oligarchy of sex" which ruled over women, as the suffragists called our political system.
They also represent the tyranny of race. I remember the words of Mount Rushmore's creator, Gutzom Borglum. Right on the spot where my friend and I are, he said, "We are standing on territory once belonging to the Sioux Indians...We are standing on their very land, for which we never paid a cent - just stole it from them and lied about it. "The Supreme Court agreed, Justice Blackmun in the 1980 opinion declaring that the Black Hills had been taken illegally, summarizing: "A more ripe and rank case of illegal dealing will never, in all probability be found in our history."
Borglum concluded, "these are the things we probably will do something about some day." I think, standing on the site of his words, that we haven't done it yet.
" Still trying to play "give you a string of beads for New York," the Supreme Court offered the Sioux, the Lakota, a trickle of what the tourist traps dotting their scared land take in each year as compensation.
The Sioux said no. They're still saying no. Willing to give up the land which is now in the private use of whites, they want just compensation for it. And they want the public land in the Black Hills returned to them. It's minimal.
If I did learn anything about democracy from those stone faces starting down at me, it is that a democracy required an educated citizenry. We need to know in order to decide. That citizenry, now tucked in theirs homes watching a mock historic replay of "redskins" destroying "buffalo" will again venture out of their homes into their Winnebagos and head for the hills this summer in droves.
They will ooh and aah at the first nose view of Washington, find a place in the packed parking lot, make their way through the crowded Avenue of States, stand in line for fudge imbued with the spirit of democracy, pick up a trinket or two for the folks at home, and leave, uneducated.
They will not know what the sculpture of Mouth Rushmore knew, that they are standing on stolen land that has never been paid for. They will not know that the majestic shrine they are visiting is nothing more than Wasichu graffiti carved into the sacred heart of Paha Sapa. They will not know that, even the women who can now vote, to pressure their senators and representatives to once again introduce legislation to bring justice to the site of democracy.
I suspect that Thomas Jefferson (who was probably the best of the lot) would consider this white washing taking place before his carved eyes as evidence that his vision of democracy, imperfect as it might have been, had turned to stone in America.